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Evan Davis on... trusting PR

Updated Tuesday, 16th February 2010

A recent piece of sleight of hand at the Undergound makes Evan Davis wonder if short-termism is doomed to shatter trust in PR.

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It always amazes me that when you talk to public relations professionals they say that rule number one is be completely honest, and yet in practice I never feel they truly are.

They don't lie, they don't tell outright porkies, but they do try to put a positive spin on what they say, a spin that suits them.

A good example is they change the timetable on a local underground route and advertise the change as more trains to Hammersmith, but they didn’t bother to mention that there were fewer trains on the Circle line.

Now why would they do that? Obviously when the timetable change occurs the passengers notice that there are fewer trains on the Circle line.

You haven’t gained anything by not pointing that out in advance, and indeed it leaves a slightly bitter taste in the mouth of passengers that they feel potentially duped because they were never told that the timetable change involved fewer trains on their line.

So what's going on here? Well, I think, ultimately a lot of public relations professionals can be accused of short-termism.

They try to buy a short-term gain. They tell you a message that is believed, but it's only believed for a certain point of time and then eventually the truth catches up and the message turns out to have been over spun or over exaggerated.

Once the truth catches up there was really no point in delivering the original message. So it's short term gain long term neutral is I think the way one might view a lot of what the messages we’re spun are.

Here's another though. In the long term there's really no short term gain to not telling the truth. In the long term if you're constantly telling people things that are defied by the reality of them later on people just don't believe anything you say.

You then have a crisis of trust. People in the industry say why is it that nobody believes us? And the answer’s very straightforward. We don't believe you because you're never fully and totally as honest as you’d like to say you are.

And I suspect it's because we have had this short termism among communications’ professionals that the industry itself has a rather bad public image.

That's my opinion, you can join the debate with the Open University.

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